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The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

TRANSCRIPT

11 Feb 2021
Time: 1:36 PM - 1:45 PM

Sky News, Ashleigh Gillon interview discussing Melbourne's ANZAC Day march being called off due to COVID-19 concerns

Channel: Sky News
Program: News Day

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Description: Ashleigh Gillon interview with Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester iscussing Melbourne's ANZAC Day march being called off due to COVID-19 concerns. Topics covered in this interview: Victorian Anzac Day Commemorations, Gippsland bushfire recovery, Zero emissions target.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Melbourne’s ANZAC Day march has been called off due to COVID-19 concerns. Other commemorations will also be scaled down dramatically with Victorians being urged to pay their respects to veterans from their driveways. Joining us live now is Darren Chester, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. Minister, it is disappointing news. You can understand why the health advice might be suggesting that it is the right move. Some, though, arguing, well, the cricket can go ahead, the tennis is on, it would be great to see our veterans march again.

DARREN CHESTER: Well, you raise some really good points there Ash. It is very disappointing obviously, and just like last year, we were able to commemorate in a very solemn and respectful way without gathering in large numbers, the RSL here in Victoria is encouraging people to light up the dawn, to do their own silent tributes, and I think that’s the right thing to do given the most recent health advice and the requirements being put in place in terms of those large public gatherings here in Victoria. If they’re going to have more than 1000 people it has to be a ticketed event, and that becomes very difficult to manage from an RSL perspective. I’ve spoken this morning to the RSL President, and I agree with his assessment – these are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. A lot of our veterans, obviously World War II veterans, are well into their 90s. Even our Vietnam veterans now are into their 70s and Korean veterans in their 80s. So I think the decision is the right one to take, albeit it’s difficult for people to know we can’t gather in large numbers. But we can still pay our respects in a very appropriate way on ANZAC Day here in Victoria.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: So, Minister, can you confirm for us what the plan will be for the Canberra dawn service at the War Memorial? Will that be able to go ahead with traditional crowds attending, or will we see a scaled-back service there as well?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, it won’t surprise you, Ash, to hear that I’ve been having conversations and meetings around ANZAC Day for the best part of four or five months as we constantly monitor the situation. I’m not in a position today to tell you what’s going to occur in terms of the national service in Canberra other than to say that there will be a national service. But we will continue to liaise with the RSL, with health authorities and it will be part of the cabinet processes and obviously consultation with the Prime Minister and others on the final arrangements. But there will be a national service in Canberra. And last year’s service was televised and I think it was very successful in terms of the way we were able to commemorate the service of the people who have given their lives to our country, but also recognise the current men and women, the men and women who put on the uniform today. We’ve seen them come to the forefront only in the last 13 to 14 months with Operation Bushfire Assist right across the east coast of Australia and also during COVID-19. So we’ll be able to say thank you for your service to our veterans, to our current serving personnel, on ANZAC Day. It will just be a little bit different again, and that’s the reality of the world we’re living in at the moment.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: You mentioned the bushfires. Your electorate, as we know, was hit hard by the bushfires last year. I see that you’ve been raising some concerns that your region is really missing out on funding in the latest round of the local economic recovery grants. Why is that? What’s the holdup? Why aren’t we seeing grants being delivered to people in your area that were so hard hit?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, the first thing I need to say, Ash, as a region, the Gippsland region, and the East Gippsland region in particular, is extraordinarily thankful for the support we received during the bushfires. I’d suggest that during the initial response phase, the initial relief phase and also the initial recovery phase I think we were world class as a nation, as a state, as a region. We had incredible response from the volunteer firefighters, from the paid emergency service workers, from the Australian Defence Force. We would have no complaints at all about the way we were treated in those first couple of months. But I think over the last few months as the longer term recovery issues have really kicked in people are becoming frustrated, disappointed with the overly complex nature of some of the grants processes. So I’ve just raised my concerns that the bureaucratic processes that were put in place are slowing down the recovery. And here in Gippsland we had some funding announced just on the weekend, and people want to know why we received I think it was $13 million and the north east and the alpine region received $20 million. People want an explanation about that. They want to know how they can apply for funds successfully in the future. Because this recovery process from a bushfire isn’t over once the newspapers leave and once the TV cameras leave; it takes us months and years to recover as a region.

So, again, Ash, look, we’re so thankful for the support we have received, but we know we have a long haul ahead of us. We’ve still got some families who haven’t been able to get back into their homes yet – they haven’t even started building their new homes yet after being burnt out. So we’ve got a long way to go and it’s been bloody tough for a lot of people. But they’re a resilient bunch out here and they’re determined to get on with things. And we just want to make sure that we get a fair go in terms of any state or federal government grants that are available.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Sounds like that’s something you’ll be taking up with your colleagues in Canberra. I am keen for your take on the debate that your party has been involved in this week about ambitions for emission reductions. Do you personally share the Prime Minister’s preference for a net zero emissions target by 2050?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, I think the point the Prime Minister has made – and keep in mind, Ash, this has been a tough debate for, what, 20 years. I mean, we’ve seen Labor leaders lose their jobs, Liberal leaders lose their jobs over this debate. It has been very difficult for the public policy-makers to find a position we can all agree on. I think the key points the Prime Minister made the other day around the fact that we want to have a technology-based approach to reducing emissions which doesn’t unfairly hurt sectors of the community – and particularly he singled out regional Australians – I agree entirely with his position on that. And then when it comes to the issue of the Paris agreement, the Paris agreement suggests or puts in place a mechanism to reach net zero emissions by the second half of the 21st century, and the Prime Minister has said his preference is to get there sooner rather than later with a technology-based approach rather than a taxation-based approach.

So that was a long answer, but the short answer is yes, I do agree with the direction the Prime Minister is taking. And I think it’s important that we as regional representatives, people who live in these regional communities, understand there are diverse views on these issues. But most of the people I talk to in my community, they want to see us have reliable, affordable energy. They want to see us make a contribution to practical environmental management, and that’s through things like emissions reduction, but also things like Landcare and Coastcare and bushfire hazard reduction. So the practical environmentalists in the nation often live in those regional communities, and they’re very keen to see us being responsible global citizens.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: That’s a pretty different position from the one some of your colleagues have been airing in recent days. Some of them warning that that sort of target could signal the end of mining, the end of farming. Are they overreacting? Are they being too alarmist?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, I think some of these doomsday scenarios that are put out there by people on both sides of the debate don’t actually add a lot to the debate. As I travel around my electorate, Ash – I mean, we’ve got to remember, regional Australia is not just about farmers. In my electorate of Gippsland I have more nurses than I have farmers. We have a lot of teachers, we have a lot of professionals, a lot of small business owners in my community, and they have different views. So as a member of the House of Representatives my job is to reflect their views and also to strongly represent them in Canberra. So when I talk to my community, they want to see that we’re doing the right thing by the environment, that we’re part of a global response to these bigger challenges. They want to see practical environmental action that I just talked about. I mean, the people in my community are the ones that join Landcare and Coastcare. I mean, they’re the ones that are out there destroying pest plants and pest animals. They’re the ones who are doing the riparian vegetation repair on the river banks. So there’s a lot of environmentalists in my community who are absolutely getting their hands dirty every day on practical environmental action. So if that makes me different to some of my colleagues, well such is life. I mean, it’s a big country, Australia. There’s a lot of different views on these difficult issues.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Are they being unhelpful? Because you mentioned there are lots of views from all different parties. But, really, the most vocal have been those within your own party. I’m thinking of Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan, Bridget McKenzie. They’ve all been really vocal this week. Is that an unhelpful position for them to be taking at this point in the debate when we haven’t even seen it as a solid policy from Scott Morrison?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, look, it’s not my job to do the running commentary on my colleagues. That’s a commentator’s job – that’s your job. My job is to reflect the views of my community. I would just simply say, Ash, we’ve got to be part of the solution as the National Party. We don’t want to sideline ourselves from the big debates. We’re in the cabinet room. There’s four ministers in the cabinet room part of those big debates. We’ve got to listen to our communities and reflect their views as part of those conversations. And we’ve got to work with our colleagues in a collegiate way and try and find a resolution to these big global challenges. So there’s a long way to go on this debate, and I think it’s important that we take our time to listen to what people are saying to us. And even in the agricultural sector, there’s very different views, Ash. I mean, I talk to farmers in my electorate who are very interested to know does this technology approach, does this science-based approach around sequestering more carbon in soils provide a real opportunity for them and their farms. So they’re open to the conversation, and we need to have it with them.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Darren Chester, appreciate your time.

DARREN CHESTER: Thanks, Ash. And it’s great to be at Lakes Entrance. You’re welcome to visit any time.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Looks beautiful. Will do – when I can get out of Western Australia and the borders start opening up. Darren Chester, thank you for that.

End of Transcript.

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